Lunchtime Solved: Playful lunch ideas to brighten up plates at home or on the go

Mom and child making lunch

Raise your hand if you’re tired of coming up with lunch ideas for your family!

Since the pandemic started, lunchtime has been different for many families. Some are serving up at home instead of offices or school cafeterias providing lunch, some are packing lunches for new and different childcare setups, and many folks are having to make their grocery bills stretch a little farther than usual. What’s stayed the same is the need for a constant flow of delicious, nutritious, kid-approved ideas. (And no, leftover Valentine’s Day candy isn’t a food group, no matter how many times our kids say it is!)

When building the perfect lunch for your family, you don’t have to follow the old-fashioned food pyramid, though we definitely appreciate Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate graphic as a simple way to approach laying out a healthy meal in a hurry. Try to include a source of protein and a source of fat so kids stay full longer, some carbohydrates for energy, and more than one type of plant food like veggies or fruit. This will add fiber and micronutrients. 

Here are some of our favorites, in a handy table format. We like having a copy on the fridge, so everyone in the household can see the options in each category and start to develop a sense of what a healthy meal is. Don’t forget to check labels for allergen and food sensitivity information, and to try to choose nitrate-free luncheon meats whenever possible.



Fruits & Vegetables




Snap or snow peas


Lentils or beans

Pita or pita chips

Carrot sticks

Nuts or nut butters

Egg salad


Celery sticks


Tuna salad

Bagels, English muffins


Cheese (including cream cheese)

Chicken salad

Cooked grains (quinoa, couscous)

Apple slices

Full fat milk and other dairy

Sliced lunch meats


Mini bell peppers




Cucumber slices or spears


Tofu or tempeh

Potato or sweet potato

Grapes or cherries (cut/pitted as needed)




Clementines/mandarin oranges or kiwis


Nuts or nut butters






Melon balls or slices

Chia seeds

Chicken nuggets


Cherry tomatoes


Roasted or grilled turkey or chicken



Olive oil and some dressings


Fruit, yogurt, beans, and lentils also have carbohydrates!


Canola oil

 Child eating sandwich

One thing that’s super important to remember if you’re packing lunch for your child to eat away from home: food safety. At school or daycare, or in a pod, lunches may be unrefrigerated from drop-off until lunchtime. The USDA website has provided good safety guidelines to take into consideration; here are some key ones to consider.

  • Perishable food like meat, dairy, eggs, poultry, fish, and precut fruit and vegetables should be kept cold
  • Hot food should be kept at 140°F or warmer.
  • Cold food should be kept at 40°F or cooler.
  • Perishable food should be kept out for no longer than two hours at room temperature; discard perishable food that comes home from school or daycare unless you can guarantee that it’s been kept cold enough.
  • Consider using two ice packs when packing lunch, even in an insulated bag: one on top, one below. If you pack lunch the night before, make sure to keep it refrigerated overnight and pack It right before leaving.

 Searching for inspiration? Here are just a few of the ones our families love.

  • Turkey-and-cheese rollups with pita chips, hummus, and a tangerine
  • Bagel and cream cheese with cherry tomatoes, cucumber spears, and carrot sticks (optional ranch dressing for dipping)
  • Quesadilla (beans and meat optional; toss in some veggies if you can) with apple slices and yogurt for dipping -- vanilla with a tiny honey swirl is a favorite, or a sprinkle of cinnamon for a yummy apple pie vibe) Note: honey isn’t recommended for children under 1 year
  • Hummus and avocado on toast with sliced tomato, berries, and carrot sticks
  • Carrot cake blender muffins (no added sugar) with nut or seed butter, snow peas, and kiwi

 What’s for lunch today? Please comment with combos that are a hit in your household!

Lunch Ideas

Written by: Melissa Holman-Kursky


  • Lavender S.

    Great ideas! My kids love pita bread with peanut butter. And never underestimate the power of a classic bowl of chicken noodle soup! It works for me and the kiddos and nothing is better than preparing only only type of food that everyone will enjoy.

  • Manuela Turco-Rivas

    My daughter loves Pasta pesto por lunch. It’s easy and it takes yummy even if it’s cold. Also a peanut butter and banana sandwich is a lunch favorite.

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